by Elida S. Perez, El Paso Matters
August 30, 2023
The city’s Ethics Review Commission has dismissed an ethics complaint that alleged city Rep. Alexsandra Annello misused her city-issued fuel card.
The commission voted 5 to 3 Wednesday night to dismiss the complaint. Deborah Paz, who filed the complaint, and Annello gave testimony for about three and a half hours.
Annello maintained that the allegations against her were not true.
“I'm here to be transparent. I'm here to meet these allegations head on and explain what I did while I did it and what happened," Annello said in her opening statements.
Paz alleged, in part, that Annello violated provisions of the ethics ordinance for allegedly allowing someone else to use her fuel card while she was in attendance in at least 16 City Council meetings, according to the complaint.
“I am concerned about the apparent double standards concerning the misuse of city gas cards,” Paz said. “I expect all of our council members including yourself, to uphold the highest ethical standards to ensure consistency and fairness.”
The commission immediately dismissed all but four of the dates of alleged misuse identified in the complaint because they were beyond the two-year statute of limitations for the ethics commission. One of the remaining four dates in question was also dismissed when Paz acknowledged the gas usage for the date in November 2021 was for Mayor Oscar Leeser, not Annello.
Annello told the commission that she authorized her husband to fill her gas tank periodically during the pandemic when she was attending virtual meetings.
“As some of you may know, and some of you may not, in 2017 while in Marfa for our wedding, my husband and I were hit by a drunk driver,” an emotional Annello said. “The driver died and my husband received near-fatal injuries.”
Annello went on to explain that one of the side effects of the trauma was that her husband had extreme anxiety about being in vehicles.
“I allowed my husband to use the card to fuel our only car for two reasons – one I needed the car to have gasoline so I could drive it to fulfill my city rep functions; two I hoped that the short trips to the gasoline station would help my husband overcome his fears of driving,” she said.
Commissioners questioned whether Annello’s husband made any other trips in the car once it was filled using the city gas card, but Annello said he was not physically able to do so.
The complaint Paz filed against Annello stems from a city internal audit report released in May that found city Rep. Cassandra Hernandez and former city Rep. Claudia Rodriguez had used the tax-payer funded gas cards “excessively” in 2022.
Annello was not found to have misused the fuel card in the May internal audit.
Paz repeatedly referred to the commission hearings that took place for the ethics complaint filed against city Hernandez, citing the fact that her husband using the card was the same as Annello’s husband using the card, but the commission disagreed. Paz was paid as a canvasser for Hernandez ahead of the November 2020 general election, according to campaign finance reports.
Hernandez was issued a letter of reprimand by the commission in July for her repeated use of the taxpayer funded fuel card and by giving her husband repeated access to the card to fuel both of their vehicles. She recently asked the commission to reconsider the ruling, but the commission dismissed the request.
A similar ethics complaint filed by Paz against city Rep. Brian Kennedy related to the fuel cards is still pending a hearing from the ethics commission.